Creosote . . . from page 12 use against one chemical may not afford protection against another hazardous substance. During a question-and-answer session the workers raised additional concerns. Local union president Janko expressed fear for the men who go into the long pressure-treating cylinders whenever the trams break down. “Let’s say the little cars with a shelf of ties 17 to 19 deep are in the cylinders. Well, there’s a cable with a loop wired on the end and the locomotive holds onto the cable. Now, sometimes a cable will break and they’ll bring out the ties one at a time. Meantime, they’re hot.” Luterio Arredondo, vice president of the union, added, “When they clean out the cylinders, the temperature may have been at 275 degrees. And they don’t always let them cool off. So, you’ve got heat and fumes to work with.” Other workers complained about the yard dust. “The other day a fella was sitting there looking funny and he had blood over his shirt and his pants,” said Holleman. “He cleared his throat and he spit up blood.” The dust is especially rough on the men who drive the lift trucks across the lumber yard. The stacking, unloading and moving by the heavy equipment kicks up thick clouds of finely ground gravel; it’s even worse if winds are gusting. Lift driver Ben Orozco said, “I spit nothing but dust. That’s what all the guys complain about. Some guys get nosebleeds. They put down oil or reclaimed diesel to control the dust I’m not sure but it dries out. Sometimes the wind blows the dust so bad you can’t see from here to yonder.” Another worker said he had been exposed to pentachlorophenol, used at the plant to kill vegetation. Mabry urged the audience to learn about such products and to insist on using them according to labeled instructions required by the EPA. When other workers mentioned that they were routinely using industrial solvents to clean the oil and creosote from their skin, Mabry advised them to learn more about the chemicals by reading container labels. “Nobody’s ever told anyone what we work with,” said one worker. “We need somebody to answer these questions.” A Family When Ben Orozco went home from the meeting that night, the first thing he did was tell his wife what Mabry said about the possibility that chemicals in the workplace could cause birth defects. If a pregnant woman comes in contact with those cheimcals while washing her husband’s clothing, Orozco told his wife, the unborn child could be affected. Rosa Quintero Orozco thought immediately of her two lost babies lost because of miscarriages. Then she thought of her three living children, two of whom have suffered physical abnormalities from birth. “I said, ‘Lord have mercy. That might have caused the problems.’ I’ve always said it can’t be hereditary. There’s nothing like this in my family.” Her husband, too, says there is no history of birth defects in his family. The couple’s 27-year-old son, now a Uvalde attorney, was born with a curved spine. “When he was 15, they put a steel rod in his back,” the father said. Mrs. Orozco added, “The doctor said it’s seldom found in boys, usually in girls. The doctor said he would have trouble all his life.” Their daughter, 29-year-old Linda, was born with a missing cornea, but has had one transplanted since; the procedure involved two difficult and costly operations. Mrs. Orozco says she has had a lot of contact with creosote. “I was up to my arms in it. When I was carrying my first two children, I had to rub [creosote] on the washboard. I inhaled it too.” She washed the family’s clothes by hand in the 1940s and early ’50s, she says, before the family purchased a washing machine. “I’d get my kerosene can and pour it on the clothes and boil them. When there was a thick foam, they were ready to come out. Then I’d put them on my washing board and rinse them in a second water and rub them a little more. That was once a week.” Mrs. Orozco grew up near the tie plant and her father and uncles all worked there for much of their lives. She says, however, that her father would not allow any of her nine brothers to follow his footsteps into the plant. “He used to say, `El no queria burros para cargar tellas’ he didn’t want donkeys to carry ties. My father and my uncles all had a bump on their shoulders from where they used to carry the ties. My uncle Rafael Villarreal died in 1972 just after he retired. I don’t think he ever knew he had cancer.” In addition to difficulties from breathing the dust, Orozco says he has experienced other job-related health problems, including rectal bleeding and stomach disorders. In 34 years at the plant, he has worked on the unloading crews \(“We used to load ties by hand and they were real hot The Texas Observer in the Classroom The group-rate cost for a semester subscription is only $2 per person. Minimum order, five persons. The copies of each issue will be mailed, every other week, in a bundle to a single address. Students will receive a total of seven issues during the semester. To order, write or call the Observer to report the approximate number of students who will be subscribing and the address to which the bundles should be mailed. If the number of subscribers is uncertain, feel free to make a generous estimate. After the class rolls settle, we will bill you at $2 each only for the number of students who finally decide to subscribe. 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